More Young People Need to Pursue the 'Magic of Engineering'

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Feb. 20, 2020) -- The Defense Department's chief technology officer said more must be done to encourage young people to pursue engineering careers.

"One of our critical tasks is how to induce more young people into the magic of engineering, as opposed to being a Hollywood star, an NBA basketball player, [or] a denizen of Wall Street," Michael D. Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said during a National Engineers Week event yesterday at the Pentagon.

"When I am asked to talk to younger folks about just this, I often say -- and I will pass it along to you -- that my favorite quote about what it means to be an engineer comes from Theodore vonKármán, one of the great engineers of history. Von Kármán said about engineering, versus science in particular, 'Scientists study the world that is. Engineers create the world that has never been.'"

Engineering, Griffin said, is every bit as creative a pursuit as art, music, literature or poetry.

"Our tools are just different," he said. "Our tools are the tools of physical law and mathematics, but also of human ingenuity and creativity."

For example, Griffin said, if a young woman aspires to creativity, she is as apt to accomplish that within engineering as in any other field.

"That applies to any of us," he said. "I would offer that as something to pass along to the next generation. A new engineering creation is something that has never existed before in the history of the universe. ... It's an awesome thought when you realize as an engineer you can divine an idea, bring it to practice, something that has never existed before in the history of the universe."

Griffin is responsible for the research, development and prototyping activities across the Defense Department enterprise. Among other things, he ensures technological superiority for the department and oversees the activities of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Innovation Unit and the DOD Laboratory enterprise.